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Hub city: aspiration and dispossession in 21st century Colombo

Radicati, Alessandra (2017) Hub city: aspiration and dispossession in 21st century Colombo. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.sff2rgry88y5


This thesis is an ethnographic study of urban development in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Drawing on 12 months of fieldwork, this manuscript explores the way that the city of Colombo is increasingly being re-imagined by policymakers, developers, government officials and elite residents as a “global city” similar to Singapore or Dubai. As my multi-sited project demonstrates, however, these visions of the new Colombo are far from being the current reality. Through chapters exploring diverse corners of Colombo including: a suspended Chinese-funded waterfront development project; a coastal fishing enclave; a new marketplace opened under the former government; and the city’s luxury apartment buildings, this thesis offers insight both into the varied forms of dispossession faced by the urban poor and working class as well as the aspirational projects designed to appeal to the Colombo elite. I argue that the primary principle governing Colombo’s urban development is the idea of “hubness,” an aspirational trope which emphasizes connection and mobility, especially across the Indian Ocean region. Rather than taking its island geography as a sign of insularity, many Sri Lankans hope to leverage what is now framed as the country’s “strategic location” to boost its appeal and transform Sri Lanka – and by extension, Colombo – into a major global hub connecting Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I argue that hubness as an ideal is both a spatial and temporal claim. Rather than being a self-evident statement of geography, hubness discourse is also a specific understanding of futurity. These complex entanglements of spatiality and temporality are present in each site. The ethnographic findings presented in this thesis point to the need to reconsider global city making as a process suffused with uncertainty, rather than as a straightforward, linear evolution. Global cities, I suggest, are not fixed or static entities, but contingent urban forms which are actively created as material and symbolic entities through various forms of dispossession and aspiration.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Alessandra Radicati
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Venugopal, Rajesh and Zeiderman, Austin

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